DES MOINES, Iowa --- The 'pink slime' label used by activists when referring to a lean meat product produced by BPI is misleading and threatens to hurt America’s beef industry, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday.
Branstad, a Republican, and Vilsack, a Democrat who served two terms as Iowa’s governor, added misleading headlines and unfounded claims have caused Beef Products Inc. to idle plants and potentially terminate jobs.
“I believe that the national media have permeated this discussion with a poisonous tone that is detrimental to our beef industry that will hurt jobs and will hurt cattle producers in the state of Iowa,” Branstad told a Statehouse news conference.
“The time for bad mouthing and distortions is over," he added. "The time for the truth to prevail and combat this ugly situation that we currently find ourselves in is here.”
For 30 years, Branstad said, U.S. consumers -- including himself -- have been eating the meat product that is 100 percent beef, 95 percent lean. He added the quality meat costs less, is healthier and is processed in a compressed manner that kills bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
Branstad and Vilsack said the latest “scare” is similar to past concerns about apples, mad cow disease and swine flu, which adversely impacted fruit, beef and pork producers.
The production and food safety technologies employed to make lean, finely textured beef are produced in USDA-inspected meat processing facilities, they said.
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Vilsack reiterated “without any equivocation” that products like BPI’s lean boneless beef are safe. He asked grocery store executives to rethink decisions to remove the beef products from their shelves.
Branstad said his discussions with Hy-Vee Food Stores will keep the product in their stores.
“I can guarantee you that if we felt that this was unsafe, we wouldn’t allow it to be marketed and we wouldn’t make it part of our school lunch program,” said Vilsack.
In response to hundreds of concerns from school districts around the country, the USDA allowed schools to decide whether or not to use the controversial meat products. This is because the department takes a voluntary approach to providing food rather than mandating policies.
The negative publicity, which exploded in social media, has cost BPI a substantial amount of its business and forced the company to idle production at its plants in Waterloo, Iowa, Garden City, Kan. and Amarillo, Texas.
On Thursday, Branstad and governors of states where BPI has suspended operations plan to tour BPI's plant in South Sioux City, Neb.